Biggest wins, losses for South Carolina women's basketball, Dawn Staley in transfer portal
COLUMBIA — An era of South Carolina's women's basketball ended this year with the departure of the "The Freshies," and the team will look very different in 2023-24.
The Gamecocks won a program-record 36 games in 2022-23 and completed the first undefeated regular season in program history. They swept the SEC regular season and tournament championships and reached a third consecutive Final Four, though the team failed to defend its 2022 national title after losing to Iowa in the semifinals.
South Carolina graduated seven players from last season's roster, headlined by 2021-22 national player of the year Aliyah Boston. Five were selected in the 2023 WNBA Draft including three in the first round, so the Gamecocks needed a successful showing in the offseason to reload.
Here are the team's biggest wins and losses in the transfer portal this year:
TE-HINA PAOPAO: Te-Hina Paopao never expected to hear from Dawn Staley, but here's why South Carolina needed her
TOP JUCO TRANSFER: Juco player of year Sakima Walker commits to Dawn Staley, South Carolina women's basketball
ANEESAH MORROW: Aneesah Morrow commits to LSU, Kim Mulkey after skipping South Carolina official visit
Win: Signing Sakima Walker
Sakima Walker took an atypical path to South Carolina, but the 6-foot-5 center from Northwest Florida State was a perfect addition for the Gamecocks. She signed with Rutgers as the No. 63 prospect in the Class of 2020, then transferred to a junior college after two seasons with the Scarlet Knights. She was the NJCAA Player of the Year, averaging 16.7 points and 8.2 rebounds, and helped lead Northwest Florida State to the NJCAA championship in 2022-23.
Walker may face an adjustment period going from the JUCO level up to a top-10 team in the nation, but her traits are ideal for South Carolina's needs. She can step into Boston's role as a second big alongside 6-7 center Kamilla Cardoso, and Walker brings the unique ability to stretch the floor with 3-pointers, hitting 52.6% on 19 attempts at Northwest Florida State.
Loss: Aneesah Morrow to LSU
DePaul transfer Aneesah Morrow was a top priority for South Carolina in the portal, but the Gamecocks couldn't even get her to campus for her official visit. Morrow skipped her scheduled visit to Columbia, committing to LSU and Kim Mulkey last Friday after visiting Baton Rouge the previous weekend.
The 6-1 forward is both an elite scorer and rebounder, and she would have helped the Gamecocks replace Boston's near double-double average. Missing on Morrow would have been a loss no matter who she signed with, but losing her to an SEC rival and the reigning national champion adds an extra layer of sting.
Win: Signing Te-Hina Paopao
After South Carolina's Final Four loss to Iowa and sharpshooter Caitlin Clark, it became apparent that the team needed stronger outsider shooters. Oregon transfer Te-Hina Paopao provides exactly that: The junior hit 42.4% on 3-pointers in 2022-23 and was the Ducks' No. 3 scorer, averaging 13.3 points and 4.2 rebounds per game. She also led Oregon in scoring during its WNIT run.
Paopao primarily played point guard at Oregon, which could create some challenges in the Gamecocks' rotation alongside presumed starter Raven Johnson and incoming freshman Milaysia Fulwiley. However, Paopao is also comfortable as an off-ball guard and could create an interesting dynamic with multiple point guard lineups.
Loss: No Duke transfers
Two Duke starters, 5-11 guard Celeste Taylor and 5-6 guard Shayeann Day-Wilson, entered the transfer portal before South Carolina hired former Blue Devils assistant coach Winston Gandy to replace longtime assistant Fred Chmiel. However, Gandy didn't bring either player with him to Columbia: Taylor committed to Ohio State and Day-Wilson to Miami.
Taylor, who was a Naismith Defensive Player of the Year finalist in 2023, would have a been a strong fit for the Gamecocks' system and filled the shoes of Brea Beal as an elite 1-v-1 defender. Day-Wilson was a much less significant loss, as she would have added yet another body to the team's already-full point guard roster.
Win: No transfers out
South Carolina lost a massive group of seniors, including the entire 2022-23 starting lineup, so holding on to all of its returners is a huge victory for Dawn Staley and her staff. The Gamecocks bring just four players who averaged at least 10 minutes per game, and all three returners who played less than 10 minutes are former 5-star prospects.
Last offseason, South Carolina lost three players to the transfer portal headlined by freshman Saniya Rivers, the former No. 3 recruit in the country for the class of 2021. Keeping all of its young talent this year was critical as the team looks to remain one the sport's elite programs without the iconic 2019 recruiting class.
This article originally appeared on Greenville News: South Carolina women's basketball 2023 transfer portal wins and losses